Alone on the Beach’s travels are sometimes built around music tours, and in 2019 we managed to jump on the Mark Knopfler world tour for 14 shows.
For those unfamiliar, the ex-Dire Straits lead guitarist’s heritage spans the Northern England-Scotland border. His sound, especially that of his solo material of later in his life, is a true Geordie, Northumbrian sound with a fingerpickin' good touch of Nashville. Great tone, song writing and all-around musicianship and the best touring band in the world full stop.
Over time Alone on the Beach has been pretty active in touring, seeing maybe 120 Mark Knopfler shows over the last 20 years on several continents. We have to admit having fallen in love with the regular “front row” crowd and what a pleasure it was in 2019 to regroup with our European, Canadian and U.S. friends for the tour.
A special call out to Paul Crockford and Kevin Leflar and team at Official Community. As Mark's manager Paul has been instrumental in making sure that real fans get real seats over the years, and Kevin and Official Community are the mechanism to make that happen. It's simple: fans get good seats, but you have to show up in person day of show with ID to get your tickets. A complete nip to any and all scalping, and by having good and real fans up front, the band gets the energy they deserve. We have a little notion that it is then our obligation to "bring it", and in 2019, boy we did!
Our journey in 2019 started in June is Copenhagen. It was a special treat for us because Alone on the Beach’s middle daughter Maddy, 11 years old – she really gets it. Musically, she’s like Mom and Dad and had been yearning to see Mark and the band for a long time. We got to take her down into the front row. She loved it and managed to catch some smiles from the band and Mark himself.
After a brief respite back in California, we continued the fun with three shows in Italy in July, two in Rome and one in Verona. By this time the band was so well rehearsed, and the show was just in fine form all around. The venues were exceptional.
The Rome shows were at Terme di Caracalla, ancient Roman baths. The ruins formed the backdrop to the stage and framed the extensive grounds. We were a little (over?) excited to pick up our front row tickets!
Alone on the Beach will admit, it may have had something to do with the wide availability of Aperol Spritz, including in the venue. We decreed it the "drink of the tour".
It was a sunny night in Rome, the first of two shows, with really perfect evening weather cooling off ever so slightly just in time for the band to take the stage. The show crossed over sunset and into the dark of night, providing a chance to watch as the ruins faded out to excellent lighting, still evoking shadows of the sculpted stone backdrop. The band was clearly having a great time with a pretty rambunctious crowd. We've done a lot of UK shows over the years, Italy seemed immediately different with a younger and more energetic feeling afoot.
Two nights in Rome were only to be outdone by the Verona show the following evening, in the historic arena, though the subject matter at hand on another warm summer night much more pleasant, for sure, than that of gladiator times.
One of the greater tour moments of 2019 happened in Verona. Our crew which by now included many fly-ins (Ingrid from the Netherlands, Leon from California admirably popping into Europe for just one show) joined 20 or 30 other Knopfler fans on the roof deck of the hotel directly across the street from the venue. More spritz and a couple cold temperature hot tubs made for a great time pre-show.
Sure enough, at some point the band starts sound checking and, while we couldn't quite see the stage, the acoustics were clear as day. Dancing ensued, and rancorous cheers to the band culminated a fine rehearsal attempt at Why Aye Man. I hope the band heard our screaming ovation! I asked the bartender if this was normal and he said he's heard sound checks for the Rolling Stones, Elton John and many others. Best job ever? It was off to the venue, directly across the street, for the evening show.
From our front row center seats, we had a great view of the band and backdrop of this incredible space. Once again tonight the crowd had a lot of energy and the band definitely fed off of it with another fantastic performance. It must be really different for them to play in these incredible historic spaces versus plain old arenas and theaters.
Verona closed out our four European shows on the tour in the months of June and July. The band would continue on, but we would not cross paths again for about two months, when we rejoined the tour on the U.S. west coast.
First stop was Portland, at the Keller Auditorium. Situated downtown, it was built in 1917 and at a capacity of 2,992 was one of the smallest shows on the tour (which included huge arenas like the O2 in London and Madison Square Garden in New York). Tonight, we were a few rows back from the front, but it barely mattered the place was so small. It felt like the band was right on top of us! Right before the show, the band's amazing Welsh drummer, Ian Thomas (above to the left of Mark), came up and tapped me on the shoulder. He thought I might be a chiropractor friend he was looking for, but alas, I could not deliver! Nice chance to say hello and give thanks for all the efforts on the kit, though.
After a nice after show party with quite a few of us at our riverside hotel, it was off to the Seattle area, Woodinville specifically, for two nights outdoors at the Chateau Ste. Michelle winery.
The winery stop is a perennial favorite from prior tours. Everything just works so perfectly to see shows here. First off, the Willows Lodge, which is the closest accommodation to the winery and well within very easy walking distance, is fabulous. The rooms are luxurious, the grounds are picturesque, and the food and beverage are a highlight. The restaurant Barking Frog is a farm to table concept featuring the best pacific northwest fare. The wine list is terrific (this is Washington wine country after all) and the cocktails are innovative.
Theer's plenty to walk to from the hotel including a number of other independent restaurants, breweries as well as numerous tasting rooms. By late afternoon, our crew had assembled at the hotel for pre-show drinks and at some point, we made our way to the venue, for the first of two nights in the front row again.
The venue is great because effectively everyone has bottles of wine! In fact, on a prior tour stop here, Mark came out to play, looked around at everyone with all this wine and said "whoa, we're going to have to play really great tonight" (which was delivered on). Similar, the crowd was incredibly energized on these couple of nights and the vibe of the band did not let down. Night 1 was unusually cool and a few raindrops near the show's end, but the situation improved dramatically for night two. A solid weekend in the Pacific Northwest concluded with a terrific after party back at Willows Lodge.
Next up was a Monday show in Berkeley at the Greek Theater. The crew seemed to be getting larger and larger as we continued down the west coast! Below is our clan for the evening in Berkeley as we set off from our pre-party in Marin County, where we live, on a chartered bus bound for Berkeley.
We got a good chance to listen to tunes and have a few drinks on the ride to the east bay, and everyone arrived energized for a great show.
The sound at the Green Berkeley is always special; something about the all-stone benches behind the pit make the bass reverberate and the acoustics are really strong. This was a rather big venue size-wise, and it was a Wednesday no less, but the band was again in great form. The entire months' long tour would end in just about a week, but the band showed no sign of slowing down.
For our final sprint, it was off to Santa Barbara on a Thursday and Los Angeles on a Saturday. Some of the Berkeley crew hit the road down south, while Alone at the Beach jumped on a United minijet and got picked up by the Los Angeles contingency of our touring group. The Mar Monte hotel's poolside bar was the site of the pre-party on a gorgeous evening in Santa Barbara.
We see our "tour friends" a little but outside of Mark Knopfler tours, but as everyone is spread out from Israel to Europe to Canada to all over the United States, primarily, we are all together for tours every few years. As the 2019 world tour was very near its end and Alone at the Beach had only two shows left, a tad bit of a bittersweet feeling was in the air. But notwithstanding, Santa Barbara proceeded to be perhaps the most fun and exciting show for our crew of the whole tour.
I talked about the "trade off" - fans get great seats, we bring the band real energy of people truly connected to the music at a very deep level. Well, we left our hearts on the stage in Santa Barbara for sure. Mark Knopfler is one of those musicians where every show is a 99, but sometimes you catch a rare 100. This was that night, for this tour. The exceptional musicianship was generating a bond between crowd and band, and everything just came together. Terrific outing.
After breakfast on the beach, we headed down by car to Los Angeles for the last show. Actually, we had a night off on Friday night to recover, and we caught some great comedy!
With the night off completed, we were rested and ready for the Saturday Mark Knopfler show at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles.
The gentleman below, Michael, is a true fan. I can take credit, actually, for getting him into Knopfler. We were all scrambling around a bit for a new touring band after Jerry Garcia died, and I had latched onto Knopfler, having seen Dire Straits a number of times, falling in love with the direction taken in Golden Heart, his 1996 first solo release, and doubling down by joining the world tour in 2001. Fast forward to the next big tour in 2005, and I procured some tickets for Heineken Music Hall in Amsterdam. We were over there with a few other friends, and I saved these tickets as a secret until a few hours' pre-show. I dropped on everyone that we'd be seeing Knopfler that night and, fast forward, coming on 20 years later we have done every world tour. Michael's home in Burbank would be the site of the pre-party on this Saturday evening in Los Angeles. The crew for the show is poolside above.
Michael, being Michael, could not let my airporter bus in Berkeley go unchallenged for best tour transport. The result was above. Neon lights, a dance pole and myriad subwoofers made for an exceptional ride to and from the Los Angeles Greek Theater. We were front row again, at another really great and fairly large venue for our last outing of the tour.
This was in face to be the final tour stop for the band, until quite close in a final show was added in New York. But for Alone on the Beach, the last night would be here. The band was terrific.
Mark Knopfler talked a little bit on this tour from the stage about retirement, but by later in the tour his angle changed: it seemed like he would be back. Of course, back then, nobody knew of the pandemic was ahead. How this has all combined and where Knopfler and his touring band go from here in unknown. But we sure hope they are back! A+ tour - thank you Mark Knopfler and your entire band for your positivity and changing the world for a better place.